PHOTO: We’re hoping that if Mike McGinley shows up at one of the car shows this weekend, his car is a bit cleaner. Actually, on second thought… (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)

-by Justin St. Louis
VMM Editor

I woke up the other morning and realized something: Racing season is basically here. Fenders of forgotten Enduro cars are beginning to poke out of the snow banks, press releases are trickling into inboxes like the first yield off the sugar maple in Ma’s dooryard, and that racing itch is starting to come back more and more each day.

The time that passed between Florida Speedweeks and now was eerily quiet, but it’s starting to seem as though someone turned up the volume a little. Bring it on.

***

First, the big news here at home: VMM is growing up. With plans that may seem a little lofty — but not out of realistic grasp, rest assured — we’ve decided to bite off a bit more this year. Yours truly made up a schedule, tracked down a few guys either too nice or too foolish to say no, and we’re hitting the road this season. If all goes like we think it will (barring rainouts and what have you), VMM will be at more than 100 race-related events in 2011.

Between newbies T.J. Ingerson, Shawn Sicard, and Ricky St. Clair (and me, I guess), we’ll plan to be at Airborne, Bear Ridge, Devil’s Bowl, and Thunder Road for every event, plus we’ll hit the big events throughout the summer and a major portion of the ACT Late Model Tour, Valenti Modified Racing Series, and SCoNE Sprint Car schedules.

Here’s the back story: T.J. and Shawn were top runners in their days behind the wheel, and Ricky is an enthusiastic student of both short track racing and journalism. Shawn won a 100-lap Tiger Sportsman show at Thunder Road in 2008 and ran up front in three different divisions at the track, T.J. was a winner at T-Road and White Mountain Motorsports Park and is as good or better with a wrench in his hand as he was with a wheel. What Ricky lacks in experience, he makes up for in charisma. After all, his Twitter handle is @Ricky_Smooth_ 91, so it must be true. In fact, the other guys are on Twitter, too, at @TJIngerson and @shawnsicard, so give ‘em all a shout.

The big local kickoff is this weekend, as VMM takes in the Rutland Regional Race Car Show at the Diamond Run Mall in Rutland on Friday, and we skip over to Hanover, N.H., on Saturday to say hello to our friends from Bear Ridge Speedway at the Hanover HomeLife Show at Leverone Field House. Each show runs Friday through Sunday.

***

We’re really hoping Robby ‘Banana Hammock’ Bodwell shows up with his Sprint Car at one of the shows this weekend. This year, Bodwell brings to local racing what may possibly be the greatest sponsor ever.

Ever.

Bodwell’s SCoNE entry will be sponsored this year by Julio’s Thongs For Men.

So many jokes, so little time.

***

One of the things we’ll pay more attention to this year is the Vermont SportsCar rally team. Why rally cars? First, because they’re local. Second, because this is a stock car site and those cars are way more factory-stock than any Late Model or Modified that we usually cover. Third, because they’re just plain bad-ass. And RallyCross-style racing is basically what we’re all used to watching — cars running heat races and features, beating and banging, having fun — just off-road.

It’s cool, trust me.

One of the best-kept secrets around these parts, the Vermont SportsCar group is the real deal. Based in Colchester, VSC is Subaru Rally Team America’s flagship organization, and has been the most dominant team in rally racing for the last half-decade. If you want to compare apples to bananas, it’s the Hendrick Motorsports of four-door hatchbacks that fly through mid-air at 75mph.

VSC doesn’t fool around with drivers, either. Have you ever heard of Travis Pastrana? You know, the X Games backflip guy, the star of MTV’s Nitro Circus, the guy Michael Waltrip just brought into NASCAR, pretty much the coolest guy in the world? His last gig was with VSC, winning 21 events (and four consecutive national championships) in Rally America.

Oh, and they had some fella named Ken Block, too, whom you might have seen doing awesome car things in the Gymkhana videos.

But Pastrana and Block are gone now. So who’s the lead guy? Maybe you’ve heard of Dave Mirra, Lord of BMX. British rally standout David Higgins has also joined the team.

The all-time X Games medal winner and 2008 Rally America Rookie of the Year, Mirra’s just settling into his groove at Vermont SportsCar. He’s got a pair of podium runs in his two starts on the Rally America circuit this year including a career-best runner-up showing at the Sno*Drift Rally to open the year.

Mirra and Vermont SportsCar will be competing this weekend at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.), host to NASCAR’s Toyota All-Star Showdown, in the first of three Global RallyCross events.

Also expected to compete are rally and action sports superstars Tanner Foust, Brian Deegan, Rhys Millen, Marcus Gronholm, and Marcus Dodd.

The GRC events, each one a qualifying round for this summer’s ESPN X Games, will be tape-delay broadcast on the networks of ESPN; the Irwindale event — which will be held Friday and Saturday — is slated to be televised on April 17 on ESPN2.

***

The news of Brent Dragon joining the Avery Motorsports team part-time to run the American-Canadian Tour is pretty big. Milton, Vt., veteran Dragon will use his own car in about half of the Tour’s events and will run for the New Hampshire-based Avery team in races at Thunder Road, Oxford Plains, and White Mountain. Both cars are Distance Chassis built by Maine’s Jeff Taylor.

The point of the split schedule, Dragon says, is to give each team ample time to prepare its car for the next race. Dragon said in December that the turnaround time between ACT races was often so shortthat he wasn’t able to prepare a car capable of winning of winning races. With two teams working on two cars — and each running only half of the schedule — that problem should, in theory, be solved.

It’s been a while since a driver has attempted a full schedule while running for two teams in this area, but it’s been done before. Canadian Andre Beaudoin and Dragon’s own father, Beaver, each ran with the old ACT Pro Stock Tour and NASCAR North Tour in a similar fashion in the 1980s.

***

We wish we were going to be able to get down south for ‘The Race’ at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway next month. With a minimum of $75,000 on the line to win, the Pro All Stars Series has piqued the interest of every Super Late Model team on the continent. As of Monday, PASS officials have received 75 entries from across the U.S. and Canada including those of St. Johnsbury youngster Steven Legendre and former Milk Bowl winners Patrick Laperle and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr.

Also on the roster for ‘The Race’ are New Englanders Ben and Mike Rowe, Johnny Clark, Cassius Clark, Ryan Moore, Joey Doiron, D.J. Shaw, Adam Bates, Travis Benjamin, and Billy Penfold, Canadians Mario Gosselin, John Flemming, and Kevin Roberge, southern stars Ryan Blaney, Augie Grill, Jeff Choquette, Jay Fogleman, Justin Wakefield, Andy Loden, and Preston Peltier, Midwest stars Ross Kenseth, Scott Hantz, and Becca Kasten, and west coast racers Garrett Evans and Ryan Reed, and Daytona 500 winners Sterling Marlin and Geoffrey Bodine.

And that ain’t even half of ‘em.

Legendre will compete in the South Carolina Clash 150 PASS South event at Dillon (S.C.) Motor Speedway this Saturday. The 18 year-old earned a career-best third-place finish in the race last year, and was fifth in the PASS South season opener at Anderson, S.C., two weeks ago.

***

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… The Great VMM Fantasy NASCAR League Update!

I was right in my prediction that I would tank after winning Daytona, so there’s that. Mitch Fantastic Racing, led by interim crew chief Justin St. Louis (we say “interim” because we know there’s always someone better for the job out there), now ranks seventh overall, more than 100 points out. Perfect.

ACT91Fan won the week for Phoenix, while MJ Dunn #9 and Team Money Hungry took Las Vegas and Bristol, respectively.

The top 10 in points after Bristol:
1. smoke14/39 — 1190
2. Team Money Hungry — 1171
3. Amp It Up 88 — 1144
4. Maine-e-ACTs — 1117
5. Team MainiACT — 1102
6. Hold On Grandma — 1102
7. Mitch Fantastic Racing — 1085
8. ACT91Fan — 1077
9. ACT77MA — 1070
10. essexcadet — 1066

We’ll try to get ‘em back at Fontana.